Leash Walking Without The Drama

Freedom is not the absence of obligation or restraint, but the freedom of movement within healthy, chosen parameters.

Kristin Armstrong

Brittany Graham Photography

Brittany Graham Photography

Last week I had a rather full schedule training, including a couple of dogs who were, for lack of a better term, “aggressive”.  And this is how my week ended.

image1-8I really wish I could say I got it doing something exciting. It didn’t happen while I was training dogs.  It happened while I was painting.

I’m officially middle aged.

Anyway, I’m supposed to rest it for at least a week, so as far as sprains go, it’s not too bad.  Now that brings to light a few questions, though:  how am I supposed to do this week’s training sessions, which includes one aggressive dog, as well as 3 super-hyper dogs, whom will undoubtedly need work on leash walking.

The answer is that if I can’t walk dogs with a mildly sprained wrist, then I can’t walk dogs.

The secret to working with dogs is to never make them feel restrained.  In other words, I shouldn’t need muscle to walk a dog.  If I am able to drive a car (which I am), then I am okay to walk a dog.

The biggest complaint I hear about people walking their dog is that the dog is pulling the whole time, causing the owner’s arms to become tired very quickly.  But let’s think about it  rationally:  the dog physically can not be pulling you unless you are pulling back.  In other words, you are pulling backwards just as much as they are pulling forward.  You are trying to muscle your way through the walk.  Even worse, the reason why your dog is pulling is because you’ve restrained them…no, not with the leash, but with the tension attached to the leash.  You’ve engaged their fight or flight response, causing them to pull forward, which in turn engaged your flight or fight response, causing you to automatically pull backwards.

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But what if you didn’t fall into that vicious cycle?  What if you didn’t sink your feet into the ground, and pull back with all your force?  No, I’m not stating you should let your dog run amok while you follow meekly behind.  But rather than using brute force, have you tried answering your dog’s question instead?

Dogs ask a lot of question, all the time.   Answering your dog’s questions is called “Piloting” them.  Some questions you can ignore (“Is it okay if I scratch my ear now?” or “Mind if I take a nap?”).  Others you want to give a profound, hearty “yes” to, (“Should I potty outside?” or “Should I sit politely to get that treat?”).  But the most important ones sometimes require a “no”, such as, “Can I jump on your guest?”, or, in this case, “Can I lead our walk?”.  The answer must be “no“. So how do you “answer” your dog with a negative?

Easy.

Stand up as straight as you can, pretend your dog is a lot taller, and simply invade their personal space.  Keep your feel like a letter “V” so you don’t accidentally step on their paws.  The moment they are no longer “asking” the question, you are done.  So, for instance, if my Sparta were barking at something outside the window, I would simply stand up straight and get between her and the window she’s barking at, and back her off the window using strong, confident body language. I’m “claiming” the window, or, as we put it, answering her question, “Should I be worried about that dog outside?”.  The answer is “no”.

How can I tell when she’s accepted the answer?  She will stop barking for a moment, perhaps look at me, sit down, turn her head away, or even just walk away.  She is no longer actively engaged in the window, or what’s outside, therefore, I no longer have to answer her question.  I’m done.  No force involved.  I didn’t drag her away from the window, I merely crowded her out from it, using my body.

So how does this work on a walk?  Well, let’s start with the three most important steps:
1) Control yourself. No anger, no yelling. Good, confident body language. Fake it if you have to.

2) Control the situation.  Did you just walk out that door with the dog dragging you, and then continue walking? Control each and every moment.  If you lost control, that’s okay, just reboot to regain control.  Don’t just follow the momentum. Create calm.  It’s okay to stop and start over.

3) Answer questions as they come up, using the body language.

Okay, now you’re ready.

Go to the front door.  Put Fido’s leash on.  Now I want you to “claim” the door.  In other words, Fido’s first question is going to be, “Do you want me to lead you out the door?”  Your answer is “No”, so simply pivot on your foot that’s closest to your dog, and now you should be facing Fido, with your back to the door. You yourself should look like you are a door that just slammed in Fido’s face.  Using your body language, gently back him away from the door, using an occasional tug, tug, tug on the leash if necessary, but never holding him back physically. Now he’s calm?  Okay then, you’re ready to walk outside.

Take each step slowly.  If he tries to drag you down the front steps, stop, give a series of gentle tugs until he is close by you again.  His ears should never be past your knees – if they are, he’s leading you.  Simply answer his question; the moment his ears get past your leg, give a gentle tug on the leash, and/or pivot on your foot so you are now facing him, again, looking like you are a door that just closed on him.

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When Fido backs up to where he belongs, and/or looks away, you’re good to “unslam” the door and move on.  No pulling, no yanking, and now restraining.  Merely answering questions.

At first, Fido is going to have a lot of questions that need answering, because let’s face it, he’s always lead you on the walks before.  Stick with it.  Answer his question each and every time he asks if he should lead.  The first 10 minutes are going to be very frustrating for you.  The next 10 minutes will be less so.  The final 10 minutes are going to be like a whole new, positive experience.

Keep calm and pilot on

 

Kerry Stack
Darwin Dogs
Dog Training in Cleveland, Ohio

 

The Worst Four Words and How They’re Impeding You and Your Dog

“The meaning behind the words, the feeling is more significant than the words themselves, so listen.” Anonymous

Brittany Graham Photography

Brittany Graham Photography

I use a lot of strange lingo here in my blog posts.  Words you might not think belong with a dog training site.

Piloting: The act of answering your dog’s questions; guiding their voyage through life.

Rapunzel Syndrome: A dog who hasn’t been acclimated to a set of stimuli; for example,  a puppy mill dog who is finally get out of a cage for the first time, or simply a dog who isn’t walked very much and hardly leaves their own back yard. Overwhelmed, terrified, excited, terrified, excited….

Yo Bitch:  A certain unsavory behavior some dogs give.  Read about it here.

Paris Paw: As in, Paris Hilton’s dog.  The most frightened dog in the world.  Always has his paw up by his chest, denoting his level of terror and uncertainty.  We humans do it when we aren’t sure or aren’t wearing our Piloting uniform.

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There are a few words you will never hear me utter, because they have absolutely no place in dog training.

Dominant/Alpha Male

I see on tv all the time, or hear from people, “You just need to show him who is alpha male of the pack”.  Probably some of the dumbest words I’ve ever heard uttered.

David Mech coined the term over 50 years ago when describing behavior of captive animals. In his book published in 1970,  “The Wolf: Ecology and Behavior of an Endangered Species,” he describes how fights among the wolves determined who would control the pack, thus making them Alpha Male.

In 1999, Mech published a paper recanting his original term, and describing it as incorrect.  Based upon more evidence, he realized that the proper term should be “breeding pairs”, if anything, and that his original observations were based upon wolves kept in unnatural circumstances.

So the gentleman who coined the phrase no longer uses it, and claims its an obsolete notion; why are you still using it?  There is no concept of “alpha” in your dog.  Same goes for “dominating” a dog so they “know their place”.  Their place is asking questions, of you or of themselves, and you Pilot them by answering their questions.  “Can I bark?” No. “Can we play fetch?” No, not right now.  “May I please have a treat?” Yes you may.  At no point is domination needed.  The more you answer their questions, the more questions you look for them to answer.

Think of it like a contractor.  I recently discovered water dripping from my ceiling in my kitchen (!).  Obviously, I knew I needed to ask someone about that.  So I called the gentleman who had laid the tile on our entire first floor of our house last year. He also did a lot of other work for us through his contracting company.  Could he handle this issue?  I don’t know, but the fact that previously he had answered questions and handled other situations for us made us want to speak with him again regarding this.  And yes, he is able to handle the situation.

So you don’t ever show your dog that you’re alpha/dominant.  You prove to them that you can Pilot them. You have to earn that ability, just like anything else.  Read how here.

Bad Dog

Good grief.  By whom’s standards are you judging your dog?  Because your dog is not bad.  They’re a great dog!  They just reallllllly suck at being human.  See, it’s right there in our tagline, at the top of this page. So rather than trying to train them and declare what behaviors make them “bad dogs”, let’s work on communication.  Helping them live in this alien world we call suburbia.  Pilot, don’t berate.

You’re Doing it Wrong/You’re a Bad Owner

Oh my…didn’t we just address this?  Yes, you agreed that your dog isn’t a bad dog, but rather a mess of a human.  You’ve shown them sooooo much patience for their lack of humanity, and are working towards communication with your dog. 

And then you go and lay an egg like that.

My dear, you aren’t a bad owner.  You aren’t doing it wrong.  You are a perfectly wonderful human….who really sucks at being a dog. You’ve cut your dog some slack for not being human, now how about a little patience for yourself as well.  Your dog has already moved past any faux pas paws you may have made.  Now forget what has been going on in the past; as long as you were acting through love and concern for your pet, I already forgive you for not being a good dog ;).  And get frustrated.  You have my encouragement.  Just do it appropriately.  Read here about How Not To Kill Your Dog Through Frustration, Even Though He Chewed A Hole in your Sofa, a guide to surviving your bad dog.

Punish

Right along with the last two terms I hate, “punish” has no place in working with dogs.  No matter what your dog did, they acted as a dog.  They don’t need punishment; they need answers.

To help understand this, you need to understand that dogs live in the here and now.  (I’m envious, actually).  They have no concept of always, never, nor forever.  It’s literally “yes” and “no”.  Meaning Fido can ask me if he can jump on me.  I give him a negative.  He accepts that negative.  Whose fault was that?  Nobody’s, right?  It’s just a question, and I answered it for him.  What happens if he jumps on me again, though? Then whose fault is it?

Nobody’s. (I set you up for that one.)

It’s a brand new question.  Each and every time.  Remember, dogs don’t understand always, never, forever…they understand “yes” and “no” in response to their questions.  Does that make them stupid?  No, it makes them perfect and guileless.  However, dogs are extremely intelligent (yes, even yours).  And what they do understand (after a bit of repetition) is that the same question will yield the same answer.  So for instance, it took my Sparta about 6 times of answering her question, “Can I hang out in your walk-in closet?” (she’s weird), but now she anticipates that the answer will be “no”, and she rarely, if ever, has asked that question since.  It took only a few times of me answering my Orion’s question, “Can I go on the couch?” before he realized that I’ve been saying “yes” every time, and now doesn’t ask permission anymore. However, when he asks about my bed, the answer is sometimes yes and sometimes no, so he knows he has to ask every time, and not just jump up there.

So you can teach your dog a rough translation of always, never and sometimes by answering their questions.  Just keep your eye on the ball and answer the important questions.

Learn how to answer their questions while maintaining your sanity here.

That handles all of the words that I abhor.  The ones that should be stricken from the dog-dictionary, if you will.  The way to start communicating and working with your dog is to start by jettisoning those words from your vocabulary.

I’m sorry… I have no idea how that got there!!!!!!!

Movingrightalong…..let’s talk about  an iffy word. A word that I don’t hate, but I don’t love.

Training

This is a weird one, isn’t it?  Wondering if you’ve stumbled on the wrong site?  This is dog training after all, right?

Well….yes and no.  “Training” is a word that is over used. Let’s go over the mantra again, and perhaps you’ll see where the problem is.

“Your dog sucks at being human.  And you aren’t the best dog.”

So what exactly are you “training” your dog to do?  Let me put it this way: do you “train” your kids?

Um, hopefully not.

What do you do with children, though?  You answer their questions. Big, little, easy, difficult… you answer them to the best of your ability.  Just today, these were the questions I answered from my kids:

Mom, can I have a Klondike bar?

Mom, what time is it?

Mom, can I play on my 3DS?

Mom, why did Aunt Donna get cancer?

 

Yes

3:30

No

holyshithowdoIanswerthat?

Just like with kids, you do the best you can.  The more you answer their questions, the more they look to you for answers, and the more they start to trust your answers as solid, even if they don’t like your answers.

So you aren’t really training your dog any more than you are training your kids.  You are helping to Pilot them through life with big, little, and difficult answers.  The difference between kids and dogs, however, is that you will be Piloting your dogs for the rest of their lives.  Children we start to back off the answers as we encourage them to find their own answers so we can finally let them go as fully functioning adults.

And finally, let’s talk about words that I love.

Anything positive.  Seriously.  If you see a behavior your dog is giving, and you like it, give it a positive.  Catch as many as you can, be it through words, affection or an occasional treat.  I want you to be the positive-fairy, spreading positives where ever you go. Spread it like glitter.

There’s a saying about not saying something you will regret, but I think the reverse is true as well.  Make sure you say something you will regret not saying.  Because a day will come, and you won’t realize it, but it will be the last time you will ever tell your dog that you love them.  The last time you scratch them behind the ears.  Or the last time you say, “Good dog!”.  Catch up on the positives, and if you find yourself  crying at the other end of the rainbow bridge, when asked when you last gave your dog a positive, can you honestly say it was today? Or would you have to struggle to remember the last time you let your dog know how good and wonderful they are?  Because he lets you know each and every day. Every minute.

Keep calm and pilot on

Kerry Stack
Darwin Dogs
Dog Training Communicating in Cleveland